Non-perishable and packaged foods often get a bad rep as not as healthy as "fresh" foods. However, these foods can play a large role in any healthy diet, including for diabetics in a pinch.
Having delicious, healthy non-perishable food on hand can minimize trips to the grocery store. They also offer a variety of convenient shelf-stable food options for snacks or meals.
Finding healthy diabetic-friendly packaged foods can be difficult, so our experts created this list to help simplify your grocery shopping.
The Benefit of Non-Perishable & Packaged Foods
Non-perishable foods do not need to be refrigerated to keep from getting spoiled. They can stay at room temperature, like in a pantry, and often have a longer best by date compared to refrigerated foods. Examples of non-perishable foods include dried, canned, and other packaged foods.
A benefit of non-perishable foods is, if room allows, you can stock up on them in your pantry. This way you will always have some food on hand and will more than likely use it before the expiration date.
Not all packaged foods are considered unhealthy and non-perishable foods can be equally nutritious and delicious. Look for packaged foods that have minimally added preservatives like sugar and salt.
Examples of nutritious non-perishable foods include dried/canned beans, nuts/seeds, canned vegetables, and whole grains.
Fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy (or dairy alternatives), and meats have nutritional merits, but so do some packaged foods. Diabetic-friendly packaged foods are low in added sugar, nutrient-dense, and have minimally added preservatives.
1. Canned or Dried Beans
High in fiber and protein and considered low-glycemic, beans are a great diabetic-friendly packaged food. Having beans as part of a meal or snack can also prolong satiation after eating.
Canned or dried beans are so versatile, as they can serve as a base for soups, dips, taco filling, sandwiches, and more.
All types of beans can be a healthy diabetic-friendly option, so experiment with kidney beans, black beans, and other varieties. Chickpeas are especially versatile and can be used in many delicious ways.
2. Canned Tuna or Salmon
Canned tuna and salmon are nutritious, non-perishable protein sources that can easily fit into a diabetic-friendly diet. Unlike fresh meat or seafood, they are conveniently able to stay on your pantry shelf. Besides protein, canned tuna and salmon are good sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Canned tuna or salmon can be used to make a quick sandwich or dip. Simply drain and mix with a little plain Greek yogurt, mustard, and/or other optional seasonings.
3. Nuts and Nut Butters
Nuts have many health benefits and may offer heart health benefits for those with type 2 diabetes according to Cleveland Clinic. Type 2 diabetics who eat a small handful (1 ounce) of nuts a day may lower their risk of heart disease.
The type of nut or nut butter does not exactly matter, as they are all considered heart-healthy. In order to pick the best diabetic-friendly nut products, choose packages that do not have added sweeteners and minimal salt.
4. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate, compared to milk or white chocolate, has a higher percentage of cocoa. Cocoa beans are a source of antioxidants and various minerals. Therefore, eating dark chocolate can provide some of the nutritional benefits of cocoa beans.
However, keep in mind dark chocolate is bitter, especially products that have a higher percentage of cocoa. To counter this, sweeteners are often added to dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate is naturally low in carbohydrates and higher in fat content. To keep it diabetic-friendly, choose dark chocolates that have a higher percent, like 70 percent or above. Make sure there are minimally added sweeteners and keep portion size per day to around one ounce or less per day.
5. Single-Serve Whole Grain Chips or Crackers
Chips and crackers are a carbohydrate source that can impact blood sugar levels, but choosing single-serve packages for a snack can help control portion sizes. Whole grain chips or crackers are higher in fiber compared to refined flour-based snacks.
The extra fiber from whole grains can help slow the release of blood sugar from the digestive tract after eating. Pair with hummus or guacamole for a more filling and balanced snack.
Jerky is another diabetic-friendly, high-protein, low-carb, non-perishable food choice. It can serve as a low-carb, portable snack option that can help keep you feeling full.
Keep in mind jerky can be higher in sodium and may have added sugars for certain flavored jerky types. Check labels and keep in mind this should be eaten in moderation as a diabetic-friendly packaged food.
7. Canned Vegetables
Fresh vegetables are of course considered a solid nutritional choice for any diet type. However, canned vegetables can get overshadowed as somehow subpar compared to fresh vegetables.
Whether green beans or spinach, packaged vegetables are just as nutritionally dense as fresh vegetables. They can also be cheaper and easier to store.
Keep in mind salt is often added to canned vegetables. Therefore, check labels to choose no salt added if that is a concern.
8. Whole Grains
Research studies have shown a high intake of whole grains is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. For people with diabetes, recommended amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods at meals can vary.
However, whole grains can still be a part of a healthy diet and serve as a nutrient-dense food for diabetics. Uncooked whole grains like oats, quinoa, barley, farro, and bulgur are considered non-perishable and can be a staple of a healthy, balanced diabetic-friendly meal.
Packaged Snacks for Diabetics
A general recommendation for diabetic-friendly snacks is high fiber carbohydrate foods paired with foods offering healthy fats and protein. Specific carb recommendations for snacks can vary depending on the progression of diabetes, insulin use, and other health factors.
Below are some healthy options for healthy snack ideas, including non-perishable and refrigerated options.
1. Single Serve Cheese
Packaged, single-serve cheese can serve as a quick diabetic-friendly snack on the go. The single-serve packaging adds convenience and ease for portion control. Pair with a piece of fruit or a few whole-wheat crackers for a carbohydrate source if desired.
While most cheeses are virtually carbohydrate-free, it is still wise to check labels. Selecting lower-fat options also cuts back on saturated fat content while still supplying protein, calcium, and other beneficial nutrients.
2. Nut Butter with Fruit
Two tablespoons of peanut butter or another nut butter can pair well with a banana or apple for a filling, balanced snack. The nut butter can be measured with an apple cut up and put in a small container for a snack to enjoy on the run.
3. Hummus and Veggies
For a diabetic-friendly snack that provides 15 to 20 grams of carb, pair 1/4 cup hummus with non-starchy veggies. Examples include carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower.
4. Hard-Boiled Eggs
Eggs are a good source of protein and are carbohydrate-free. They can also be purchased already prepared but likewise feel free to prepare ahead of time and store them in the refrigerator.
Add an egg or two to a container for a high-protein snack to eat on the go. Pair with a fiber source, like sliced fruits or a piece of fruit, to rev up the nutrients and satiety factor.
5. Nuts and Dried Fruit
A small handful (one ounce) of nuts can provide a satisfying snack. Pair with a few prunes or dates or two tablespoons of raisins or dried cranberries for a sweet, nutritious pairing.
Pre-portioning these amounts in snack bags or other containers can also be an easy snack on the go option.
6. Crunchy Chickpeas
Crunchy chickpeas can be a versatile, fun snack for diabetics. Make crunchy chickpeas from canned or cooked chickpeas or find them at most major grocery stores.
A benefit to making your own crunchy chickpeas is using a variety of seasonings you want such as ground cinnamon, Italian seasoning, paprika, or curry.
Conclusion on Diabetic-Friendly Packaged Foods
Many non-perishable and packaged food tend to have a bad rep. However, many of them can fit into a healthy diabetic diet with ease!
Look for packaged foods that have minimal added sugar, salt, and preservatives such as those mentioned above.